OGDEN — Community members expressed frustration with a lack of detail and opposition to larger schools at a three-hour Ogden School District forum Tuesday night.
The meeting was held to further inform the public about a $106.5 million bond initiative the district is pursuing. The money would be used to rebuild three elementary schools, add Professional Gateway Centers to every junior high school and rebuild the Ben Lomond High School gym.
Polk Elementary School — which just celebrated its 90th anniversary with a carnival Monday, Sept. 18 — is being considered for a rebuild. Horace Mann and T.O. Smith elementary schools are the other two schools that have already been selected by the Board of Education.
At the meeting Tuesday night, Polk Principal Maridee Harrison said her school is falling apart: a small section of roof collapsed about a year and a half ago, the bathrooms flood and staff overload the building’s electrical system frequently.
But she started to cry when she talked about the 2007-2010 rebuilding of Ben Lomond High, her alma mater.
Harrison said while the demolition was hard to see, she realized it was her teachers and friends who made her high school experience so special.
“It was the community that believed in me,” she said. “It wasn’t the walls. It wasn’t the structure. It was the people.”
The entire Board of Education was in attendance at the forum along with roughly 85 other people. The board has already approved rebuilding the three schools with a capacity of about 800 students, something people at other forums have voiced opposition to.
Construction expert Dave Adams is up talking about the benefits of a "4-section" (800 student) school - says renovating isn't economical— Anna Burleson (@AnnagatorB) September 20, 2017
Those at Polk Elementary were no different. If Polk were to be rebuilt, it will be consolidated Taylor Canyon Elementary School, which would close.
There were 317 students at Polk and 417 students at Taylor Canyon last year, according to the district website.
Parent Shawnee Sawyer said her son used to attend New Bridge School and was in the principal’s office every day because he was lost in the shuffle. Not taking fire marshal rules into account, New Bridge has an absolute maximum capacity of 840 students and an enrollment of 624 last year.
Sawyer said she’s in favor of the bond but doesn’t support the schools being rebuilt to house more students.
“Yeah, tear the school down, put in something better as far as the facility goes but don’t combine the schools together and rip apart that culture,” she said.
District spokesman Jer Bates explained in an email Wednesday, Sept. 20, that Polk and Taylor Canyon were once consolidated.
This took place in 2007 when the district was experiencing declining enrollments and explored the option of reconfiguring grade levels to have students through sixth grade in elementary school instead of fifth.
However, enrollment quickly increased and Taylor Canyon was reopened in fall 2010.
Others at the meeting said they were concerned with increased traffic in the Polk neighborhood, which is largely residential. Superintendent Rich Nye said the district will engage in traffic studies and talk with the community again if the bond passes.
“But once you have our money, we lose our voice,” parent Terresa Shreve said. She supported the bond but not the idea of larger elementary schools.
Audience member Mat Trotter accused the school board of being secretive about the school selection process. He said he supports building or renovating better schools, he just wanted to see more concrete details — like renderings — sooner.
Board President Jeff Heiner asked the audience whether they wanted Polk rebuilt or if they should consider one of the district’s other old elementary schools. No one answered the question directly but audience members were asked to fill out surveys that would be given to the board to assist in their final decision, which is slated to be made at a public meeting 6 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 21.
Board member Nancy Blair spoke at the forum as a former Polk teacher.
“I felt unsafe from the moment I started working here,” she said.
Blair says her old room in Polk was so hot her 2nd graders would fall asleep. Says it was “the most miserable room in the whole building.”— Anna Burleson (@AnnagatorB) September 20, 2017
Taylor Canyon Principal Beverly Johnson also spoke in favor of the consolidation, saying teachers will have more chances to collaborate in a larger school.
Cindy Cunningham, a sixth grade teacher at Polk, gave a passionate speech to the group about putting aside differing opinions for the sake of giving students a more updated, safer space to learn in. She said she would love to have the Taylor Canyon community join Polk.
“It’s not the building and it’s not the boundaries,” she said. “It’s the people. You parents. Your kids and us teachers. Don’t let your kids get messed up with not having that new building.”
Bates told the group certain aspects of the building, like the beloved “north entrance” and stone gargoyles on the exterior, could be retained in a new building.
If Polk is rebuilt, construction wouldn’t begin for at least four years and students would have to be displaced to other nearby schools, like Taylor Canyon, for at least a year while building takes place.
The bond initiative would not raise the tax rate but Bates said if the bond doesn’t pass, a person’s taxes could potentially decrease. The bond would essentially keep the tax rate where it currently sits.
By law, bond funds can only be used for building projects.
Detailed information about the bond, district buildings and construction plans are available at ogdensdbond.org.